B.A. in English, 2014
M.A. in English, 2018
Favorite memories as an undergraduate:
Understanding that the things I was reading and critiquing were not just about literature but about human nature and how people have thought and felt throughout the years. The things you read and write involve psychology, theology, philosophy, and all manner of things that go beyond just words on a page. This showed me how an English degree is a wide-open experience applicable to several careers.
Mississippi State University Foundation
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
Honestly, I didn’t have specific plans for my future. The only thing I knew was I wanted my degree and to be a professional writer, but I never knew how to accomplish the latter. This left me in an interesting spot after getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Unlike other degrees, English does not have a built-in career path. That’s the strength and weakness of the discipline: it’s a widely applicable degree and skillset, yet that causes it to be unfocused if you don’t apply focus to your studies.
After completing my degrees, I found myself with a diverse skill set. Despite needing a clear path to follow, I was able to leverage my skills to secure teaching positions. Eventually, I landed my current job as a professional writer at MSU. This career path has broadened my plans and goals. I'm proud to be a professional writer and plan to continue this journey. At the same time, I'm also keen to pursue my interest in business and entrepreneurship.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I am a Communications Speialist. This is a writing career emphasizing public relations, so my major duties are to write feature articles highlighting various people and programs at or associated with MSU to spread awareness, increase the university’s profile, and encourage gifts and donations. I also help craft and proofread other materials, both internal to campus and external to the public, including email copy, website landing page copy, various promotional material, e-newsletters, etc.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Writing and organizing information are easy answers, but the most essential skill nowadays is writing with a specific lens for a particular audience. While writing an essay in upper-level courses, it is crucial to learn about different lenses through which literature can be viewed, such as feminism, post-colonialism, or any other brand of thought. After learning about that train of thought, you apply that lens to the material and create original work. At my job, I have to write various publications that require different levels of branding and will be read by different audiences. Therefore, while my writing may not have philosophical implications, learning to write according to a lens, voice, or brand is an exceptional skill.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
Time and workflow management. While you do learn some of this as an undergraduate or graduate student, being able to organize and handle large workloads is essential in the workforce. You have to be able to prioritize work while also learning to balance your work with your life.
Two other massively important skills would be active listening and adaptability. While it may seem like listening is an easy skill, it is more complicated. A big part of my job is interviewing people. As such, I may perform research and create an early storyboard/angle for how the story should be framed. I will also prepare questions based on that plan. However, when you get into the interview, you must listen for more than you are looking for. You must be engaged with the person and learn how they communicate. You also must identify interesting threads that go outside of what you envisioned for a story and be willing to follow those threads to a possibly entirely new conclusion.
And that gets into adaptability. Not only do you have to adapt to the changing flow of an interview, but you must adapt to the dynamics of the workplace and life. You may be assigned a story, work on it for weeks, have multiple superiors approve a draft, and then watch as the story is shelved for reasons outside your control. Rather than take it personally, you have to adapt. You have to learn to grow from mistakes and grow in your workplace so you can see setbacks as learning opportunities rather than personal attacks.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to be the perfect writer or grammarian to succeed. Plenty of people write well; most of the people I got the job over were better writers than me. While you need to be competent, being a self-motivated learner with a growth mindset is the biggest skill. On paper, you may not be the most qualified-looking applicant, but learning and seeing your weaknesses as opportunities to grow rather than as faults in your character and skillset is invaluable. This is much more than having a can-do attitude and a lot of charisma. This is a total mind-shift where you focus on radical honesty with yourself, being comfortable with admitting and exposing your weak areas, and doing the work to strengthen them without putting a cap on yourself.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as professional goals?
I’ve always wanted to write for a living, and now, I get exposure to a professional writing setting with a built-in career path. Instead of just being a writer, I can learn more about multiple aspects of communication and public affairs. I can learn about publication and project management. The possibilities are vast now.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
Don’t depend on your classes or teachers to figure out your path. The faculty here are excellent, but they need you to do the work of dreaming big and exploring the possibilities of what you could do with the education set before you. They can help broaden your horizons, but you must take charge of your life and be creative when figuring out what you want to do with it.
An old quote from Miss Frizzle, the charismatic teacher in the old school Magic School Bus cartoon, encapsulates it best: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.”
[Updated September 2023]